Asghar Ali Engineer
Secular Perspective (April 1-15, 2000)
The massacre of Sikhs in Kashmir recently has once again put the question of Kashmir in the focus. No body has owned the responsibility for this ghastly act. It is being suspected that the Lashkar-e-Taiyyiba (usually referred to in media as Toiba) has carried out this massacre. The Kashmiri militants, however, deny their role in killing of 35 Sikhs. Those who came to massacre the Sikhs in the Singhpora village of Anantnag district were wearing the military uniform probably as a decoy. The militants have alleged that the Indian military or paramilitary forces are behind the massacre, which is hardly convincing. These allegations and counter-allegations do not matter to the victims who paid with their lives.
The massacre is so shocking that all sections of society have condemned it in no uncertain words. Apart from others all Muslim leaders who matter have strongly denounced the ghastly act. The Naib-Imam Abdullah Bukhari while strongly condemning it called it inhuman act and said that it is aimed at disturbing communal harmony. He also said that no religon in the world permits killing of innocent people. The working chief of the Jamat-e-Islami Maulana Jalaluddin Umri has also denounced the massacre in no uncertain terms. He has urged upon the Government of India to hold an urgent inquiry into this episode and meet severest punishment to the guilty.
President Clinton of USA referring to it in his interview to the ABC Network said, “I believe that there are elements within the Pakistani government that have supported those who engage in violence in Kashmir.” It is quite likely that the militants in Kshmir have carried out this massacre to put the Kashmir issue in the forefront during the Clinton visit. Whatever the purpose such acts cannot be condoned under any circumstances, even if the cause be just. Unless we learn to consider human life – any life for that matter – sacred no cause is worth supporting. After all why do we carry out any struggle? In order that human life can flourish and that there is no undue suffering.
Here again it is worth stressing that violence cannot solve any problem, it only aggravates it. Violence appears justified in certain circumstances to certain people. But those who take long term view and are aware of consequences would never advocate its use, much less such indiscriminate use. Violence has no place in any society, much less in a democratic society. Here Gandhiji remains most relevant. His philosophy of non-violence, whatever its source of inspiration, is not only relevant but also morally highly desirable. In a democratic society violence is democracy’s very anti-thesis. It is surprising that those who are supposedly fighting for the rights of people of Kashmir have no respect whatsoever for the rights of others. Otherwise how could they have killed innocent Sikhs like that.
It should also be noted that it is not happening in Kashmir alone; it is a worldwide phenomenon. It is also to be noted that worldwide violence is being used indiscriminately for securing “democratic rights”. We can cite several examples. What happened in Bosnia is its best example. Thousands were massacred there so much so that mass graves were discovered by the UN forces there. Also hundreds of women were raped before being killed. Why all this shocking massacre in Bosnia? The Serbs wanted to secure their own rights. It is also interesting to note that the religious right perpetrates worst kind of violence and all that in the name of religion.
It is an insult to religion to maintain – as the religious right
always maintains – that violence is permissible to establish ones own religious
rights. In the USA the religious right is known to be using violence most
indiscriminately to force on people what it calls its doctrine of being
“pro-life”. Strangely enough they extinguish life to promote their doctrine
of promoting life. Many pro-choice people have been massacred in the USA
by self- confessed “pro-life” people. So many nurses and doctors performing
abortion have been killed in the United States. And so many dispensaries
where abortions are performed have been set afire. The Khalistanis in Punjab
also resorted to violence most indiscriminately for several years. And
all this to promote a state based on Sikh faith. As we all know only innocent
people are killed by the self-professed defenders of faith in communal
In certain cases violence may be inspired by years of persecution by a dominant section of the society and use of violence may appear justified in a certain phase of the struggle but it is observed that soon violence generates its own dynamics and acquires self sustaining quality. It is easier to begin violence but nearly impossible to end it. Violence is a power and those who take to guns feel empowered and are hardly ready to be disempowered again. They will find one or the other excuse to perpetrate violence unless some greater power intervenes. In Serbia and Kosovo violence could be ended only after intervention from the NATO powers.
Violence not only becomes repressive soon enough, even if it began as liberative, it also leads to another equally despicable consequence in at least the third world democracies: ethnic cleansing. The Bodo extremists in Assam want to create Bodoland and want to cleanse the area of all non-Bodo people. Thus they have killed so many Assamese Muslims and others in their area. The extremist Sikhs tried to kill several innocent Hindus in Punjab in order to cleanse the area of all non-Sikhs. Similarly, the Kashmiri militants are seeking to eliminate all Hindus and Sikhs from Kshmir so that Kashmir will be monopolised by the Kashmiris alone. The ethnic cleansing thus is an essential part of such ethnic or sectarian violence.
As peaceful opposition is an essential part of democracy diversity and plurality is its integral part as well. Democracy raises certain tensions in a diverse and pluralist set up. The regional identity is threatened by in migration. Thus many rightists forces raise the slogan of “rights of sons of soil” and want to stop in migration or want to reduce the numbers of those others already settled in there. Thus the article 370 in case of Kashmir has become a bone of contention. The article was inserted in the Indian Constitution to respect the autonomy of Kashmir and to safeguard its identity. However, the contents of article 370 were diluted (almost out of existence) on one hand, and, the Kashmiri militants are out to destroy its internal plurality, on the other, either by expelling the Kashmiri Pandits or by killing Sikhs.
It is indeed a dilemma of democracy, which cannot be easily resolved and is bound to create social tensions between the principle of diversity and regional identity. But such tensions have to be resolved through democratic means. However, it is easier said than done. It is most delicate task and requires honesty and integrity, on one hand, and, extreme caution and statesmanship, on the other. Unfortunately populist politics has its own compulsions and no politicians – with hardly any honourable exceptions these days – display these sterling qualities required to manage modern day pluralist democracy. On the contrary, they aggravate social tensions by playing popular politics. And such opportunism leads to violence. Punjab and Kashmir are obvious examples. Both in the Punjab as well as in Kashmir tensions leading to violence were provoked by the then ruling party. So much bloodshed could have been avoided if they had tried to manage the social tensions arising from developing situations in a statesmanlike manner.
It is highly important to note that the integrity of the country very much depends on maintaining diversity and pluralism in the country. Diversity and pluralism is always resented by the religious right. It pushes for uniformity, which ultimately leads to ethnic cleansing and to an authoritarian culture. And authoritarianism, which is not permanently sustainable in this age of democracy ultimately leads to break up of the country. Uniformity thus is enemy of unity of country rather than its base, as the rightist forces often tend to believe. Pakistan broke up in 1971 because West Pakistan was intolerant of its own internal diversity. Strengthening of diversity not only leads to democratic governance but also strengthens unity and integrity of the country.
Those who stand for the autonomy of Kashmir should do everything possible to promote its internal diversity. They should not try to polarise the society between Muslims and non-Muslims and Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris within the state. It will harm their own cause. They should, if they care for autonomy and stability of their own state, should welcome with open arms, inter-regional autonomy within the state i.e. the autonomy of Jammu and Laddakh. Within Muslims of Kashmir too there is religious as well as regional diversity, diversity between Shias and Sunnis (Shias of Kargil and Sunnis of valley) and cultural diversity between Muslims of Jammu and Muslims of the Valley. There is no pure Kashmiri Muslim identity either. In fact there is no escape from diversity in any region of any state. Hurriyat – an umbrella organisation – itself is so diverse. Thus an amicable solution in Kashmir is possible only when violence is given up and dialogue begins.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
Mumbai:- 400 055.